Michael Hudson on Adam Smith

More on Adam Smith, this time from the pen of Michael Hudson in his excellent heterodox ‘dictionary’ J is for Junk Economics (p.28):

Adam Smith (1723-1790): Traveling to France and meeting with the Physiocrats, Smith adopted their advocacy of a land tax: “Landlords love to reap where they have not sown, and demand a rent for its (the land’s) natural produce” (Wealth of Nations, Book I, Ch. 6, S.8). Landownership privileges “are founded on the most absurd of all suppositions, the supposition that every successive generation of men has not an equal right to the earth…but that the property of the present generation should be…regulated according to the fancy of those who died…five hundred years ago,” that is, the Norman conquerors (Book III, Ch. 2, S.6). Driving home the point, he adds: “The dearness of house-rent in London arises…above all the dearness of ground-rent, every landlord acting the part of a monopolist” (Ch. 10, S.55). Yet free market economists have tried to appropriate Adam Smith as their mascot, stripping away his critique of ground-rent and monopolies to depict him as a patron saint of deregulation and lower property taxes.

Regarding monopolies, Smith observed that almost every private interest represents its gains as a public benefit, as when CEO Charles Wilson proclaimed that what’s good for General Motors is good for the country. But in reality, Smith noted: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices…though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary” (Book I, Ch. 10, S.82).

Opposing the wars resulting from empire building and colonialism, Smith urged that the American colonies be liberated so as to free Britain from the costs of wars financed by public debts that taxed consumer essentials to carry the interest charges.”

Advertisements

“America First”, Fiscal Policy and Financial Stability: a report on the US economy

What does the future hold for the US economy, given its current trajectory and recent changes in government policy?

The Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, of which distinguished former associates include post-Keynesians Hyman Minsky and Wynne Godley, has just published its Strategic Analysis report on the medium-term prospects for the US.

Godley is recognised as having predicted a severe recession in the US some years before it began in 2008, due to the unsustainable build-up in private sector debt, particularly among households.

Minsky is also well known for his ‘financial instability hypothesis’ and its implication that ‘stability is destabilising’ in the financial sector of capitalist economies: periods of stable economic growth can create fragile balance sheets in the private sector, which often lead to stagnation or crisis. Continue reading

Robert Reich on 3 economic myths

Robert Reich is an influential commentator, professor and author, who served under US Presidents Ford, Carter and Clinton, in the latter case as Labor Secretary. YouTube features plenty of his short, useful videos on economics and politics. Here is one of them. Thanks to Lars P. Syll for drawing my attention to it on his blog.

As an aside, I like Reich’s use of illustrative cartoons!

Trump’s robber baron presidency – via Lars P. Syll

 

In Trump’s world, ​the rich in the US obviously are not rich enough. So he has set out to lower the corporate tax rate to 20 percent and abolish the estate tax. The working and middle classes are, of course, überjoyed …

via Trump’s robber baron presidency — LARS P. SYLL

Trump’s budget balls-up – via Michael Roberts

President Trump’s economic team have release their plans for the federal budget over the next ten years. It is a combination of wildly optimistic economic growth forecasts, vicious cutbacks in public services and environmental measures; and significant cuts in corporate taxes and personal taxes for the rich. But what is exercising mainstream economists are the […]

via Trump’s budget balls-up — Michael Roberts Blog

Michael Hudson on Big Government

Michael Hudson’s latest book J is for Junk Economics is a treasure trove of, by current mainstream standards, radical economic ideas. Here he is on Big Government, that much-maligned feature of modern capitalist economies (p.41-2):

“Europe’s 1848 revolutions by the bourgeoisie against Europe’s royalty, landed aristocracies and their allied vested interests sought to transfer power away from government bodies controlled by these classes (eg., Britain’s House of Lords). Subsequent democratic reform movements favored progressive taxation, consumer protection and general economic regulation. These original liberals fought to tax special interests, not to free them from taxation. The thrust of parliamentary reform since the 19th century accordingly has been to make governments strong enough to tax rent extractors such as landlords, high finance and monopolists.

These rentiers have fought back by wrapping themselves in the rhetoric of individualism. Accusing politicians of corruption and insider dealing, populist demagogues assert that government is by nature incompetent as compared to private management – which turns out to be giant Wall Street corporations and trusts. The effect (indeed, the lobbying aim) of downsizing democratic government is to turn the economy over to the financial sector and its allied rentiers to administer in their own interest. The wealthy are all in favor of Big Government when it is oligarchic.

Trickle-down economists accuse social spending programs of leading to budget deficits that are inherently inflationary, but applaud tax cuts and bank bailouts that benefit primarily the FIRE (finance, insurance and real estate) sector. Their lobbyists craft a demagogic rhetoric to attack progressive taxation, regulation and social spending programs by insisting that public management is inherently inefficient as compared to private ownership of basic infrastructure, banking and health care. Claiming that public services are not a proper function of government, they advocate privatization of state-run enterprises, roads and the post office.

Frederick Hayek’s Road to Serfdom (1944) argued that public planning to subsidize basic needs or regulate “the market” (rent extractors, banksters and fraudsters) to protect consumers and employees leads to socialist or fascist autocracy. His libertarian followers insist that government regulation violates their personal rights to charge whatever the market will bear. Their oligarchic alternative to big government is to roll back democratic reforms by attacking social spending programs, replacing progressive taxes with a low flat tax and sales taxes that fall on labor/consumers; abolishing minimum wage protection, Social Security and other public services; and privatizing public infrastructure to turn it into feudal-style rent-extraction opportunities. The aim is to un-tax the FIRE sector (mainly the One Percent) and eliminate the consumer protection and labor reforms put in place in the early 20th century Progressive Era. The meaning of the word “reform” has been inverted, using libertarian-style language coined in the late 19th century against Big Government under the control of aristocrats and other rentiers.

The real question is thus whether governments will be democratic or oligarchic. Will they subsidize the economy and undertake public infrastructure investment, or will they tax the population at large to subsidize the FIRE sector and other special interests?”

Tax and the false dichotomy between private and public

I was reminded in a useful piece by Will Hutton in Sunday’s Observer newspaper of the way private income in a capitalist economy is underpinned in part by public action, much of it funded by taxation. The UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, recently claimed that “every single pound of public money started as private earning.” Continue reading